For an entire generation of fashionistas, Anna Wintour is the first and the final word in matters of style.
But before there was Wintour, there was Diana Vreeland. Indeed, Diana Vreeland made Anna Wintour possible.
Vreeland, the iconic editor who presided over the fashion pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue for half a century, made many things possible. She ushered in the bikini, the blue jean, the supermodel. She elevated fashion and fashion photography to an art form with her inspired and outré editorial spreads.
Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the editor’s granddaughter by marriage and a fashion expert in her own right, celebrates the life and explores the far-reaching influence of the Empress of Fashion in the documentary, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel.” Part history lesson, part homage, the documentary cleverly stitches together interviews with Vreeland (who died in 1989), as well as interviews with a who’s who of fashion personalities, with family photos, film clips and images from Vreeland’s magazine covers and spreads to tell the story of Vreeland’s rise from a child in Belle Epoque Europe to the first doyenne of fashion. At the same time, it illustrates the evolution of women into roles of power and prominence throughout the 20th century.
In Vreeland’s own voice – which was both literally and figuratively nothing short of unique – we hear about her love of dance, her rebellion during the Roaring ’20s, her marriage to the dashing Reed Vreeland and her discovery by Harper’s Bazaar’s Carmel Snow. She spins compelling, captivating tales, some of which she winks might be a tad apocryphal. She talks about knowing people ranging from Nijinsky to Buffalo Bill, from Coco Chanel to Jackie Kennedy. She recalls seeing Lindbergh flying overhead and Hitler from afar at a theater.
During her tenure as Vogue’s editor-in-chief, she transformed the magazine from a mere fashion book to a publication that exploded with fashion, art, music and film.
When she left Vogue, she went on, at age 72, to work for the Met’s Costume Institute, setting new standards for the display of fashion and cementing her position as an oracle of the form.
A variety of fashion, photography and film luminaries weigh in on Vreeland’s vision and influence: Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Manolo Blahnik and Diane von Furstenburg tell about the importance of Vreeland’s stamp of approval; Lauren Hutton, Verushcka, Marisa Berenson, Ali MacGraw and Penelope talk about how Vreeland – no beauty (in fact, her face in old age is an odd amalgamation of crags and knobs and broad swaths of crimson rouge) found beauty in everything around her. She was known for eschewing the routine beauty of ’50s-style mannequins for the quirky looks of models like Twiggy.
“Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel” is delightful to watch in large part because Vreeland was so delightful. She was, as one interviewee says, “an upside-down original.” Her views on fashion, beauty, art, publishing and celebrity demonstrate her one-of-a-kind point of view and her enviable joie de vivre.
For women who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, this movie is a delicious bonbon of nostalgia. For younger fans of fashion, it is a lesson in how fashion became inextricably linked to culture in the latter half of the 20th century. For fashion lovers of any age, it is a must-see.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
Director: Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Running time: 86 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for nude images.
The Lowdown: A look at the life and work of the influential fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.